Adjunct professors at Miami Dade College — which boasts one of the largest undergraduate enrollments in the country — announced on Monday their plans to unionize, at a time when state and federal policy has struck major blows to organized labor.
Adjunct professors at MDC are filing for a union election on Monday under the Service Employees International Union, according to a news release. They’re pushing for a greater state investment in public higher education, job security and increased wages — for themselves as well as for others. They support a $15 minimum wage for all campus employees.
Further, the faculty members announced in the release they want community college to be free, and they noted that all of the Democratic candidates for governor support tuition-free college for some or all students.
"As an educator, we're being attacked from all sides," Shelley Dockery, an MDC adjunct who has taught graphic design there for six years, said in a statement. "It's more important now than ever to come together with our colleagues to have a voice on our campus and in Tallahassee."
Juan Mendieta, a spokesman for the college, said in a statement: "We are aware of their efforts to garner support and votes for this endeavor."
According to union organizers, there are 3,300 adjunct professors at MDC, and 80 percent of faculty are not eligible for job protections like tenure.
To trigger a union election, state law requires at least 30 percent of eligible members to submit authorization cards to the Florida Public Employee Relations Commission communicating their intention to organize. Once PERC provides an election date, all eligible members are sent secret ballots asking if they want to form a union. A majority rules. Organizers are expecting the election within several months.
SEIU did not announce what percentage of adjuncts signed on to the effort requesting a union election. Although only 30 percent is required, some are pushing to secure initial support from more than half of eligible members. That’s because a new state law that took effect on Sunday could force teachers’ unions to decertify unless more than 50 percent of their eligible members pay dues. (The Florida Education Association, a statewide union, plans to sue over the law.)
Florida is a right-to-work state, which means workers do not have to pay dues in order to be represented under collective bargaining contracts. That was reinforced nationwide with last week’s Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which is expected to severely weaken labor unions by limiting their ability to raise money.
If adjuncts at MDC succeed in organizing, they will join five other schools in the Florida College System with unionized adjunct forces. Part-time faculty at Broward College joined SEIU last year.
This post has been updated with additional information from SEIU and a comment from a college spokesman.